Brainteasers or No, Google’s Interviews Remain a Challenge

Google’s vaunted brainteasers are gone. Once a staple of its hiring process, the company’s decided that the tactic just didn’t add much value to the challenge of evaluating candidates. Talking with the New York Times, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock said the teasers were “A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Google LogoHowever, one type of question that remains could be misconstrued as a brainteaser: Queries about market sizing and estimation continue to be fair game, says Gayle Laakman McDowell, once a Google hiring committee member and now CEO of

“Estimation questions like ‘How much pizza is sold in a year in the U.S.?’ are not brainteasers, they’re problem-solving questions,” observes McDowell. Brainteasers, she says, are questions that cannot be logically deduced and rely on a trick of wording, context or similar factors.

However, she notes, software engineers and others applying for technical roles are unlikely to encounter market sizing and estimation questions. “Software engineers are not asked about market sizing, but will be asked about algorithms and coding,” she says.

How the Hiring Process Works

Each position at Google has a hiring committee attached to it. For example, software engineering jobs in Seattle are ultimately reviewed by a group of software engineers in that office. During the interview, candidates meet with other software engineers and potentially the hiring manager. The interviewers are free to ask any questions they like, except brainteasers and those on a list of questions that have been banned because they’re widely circulated, McDowell says. Still, a brainteaser may slip into an interview, since the company doesn’t clearly define what they are.

One software engineer who interviewed with Google both recently and in 2000 said the interview format hasn’t changed very much. The difference, he says, is that interviews have become more efficient. “This interview lasted half a day and was with several people, whereas before it spanned several days,” says the engineer, who requested anonymity.

How Do You Behave?

What candidates are sure to run into at Google are behavioral interview questions — the “tell-me-the-most-challenging-time you faced X” type of approach. McDowell advises candidates not to necessarily pick “the” most challenging experience. Instead, select one that was difficult but allows you to clearly define the impact you had in resolving the issue.

It’s especially important to have an example that can be clearly explained without the need for a lot of context or explanation. “I’ve had candidates that went into so many details it overwhelmed me, or they failed to show that the results were compelling or their actions seemed too simple — like their contribution was sending an email or creating a PowerPoint presentation,” McDowell says.

One hopeful note: Software engineers and other technical job applicants may be relieved to hear that coding and algorithm tests and questions are given far more weight in the selection process than their responses to behavioral questions, McDowell says.

6 Responses to “Brainteasers or No, Google’s Interviews Remain a Challenge”

  1. ——“Estimation questions like ‘How much pizza is sold in a year in the U.S.?’ are not brainteasers, they’re problem-solving questions,” observes McDowell. Brainteasers, she says, are questions that cannot be logically deduced and rely on a trick of wording, context or similar factors.———

    I agree that this is a problem-solving question. However, the way to solve it is by gathering primary and secondary market research data and applying statistical formulas to the numbers to obtain an estimate within a certain margin of error. You cannot simply come up with a number in a minute or two, in an interview setting.

  2. Plinko

    And if they did arrive at a solution what has been learned. Someone will attempt to create output from input sources that are unknown, not researched, and uncertain.

    That’s how I approach all my projects – take those business rules and user desires back to the roundtable boFF, I got my own plan for this one (aye sarcasm).

    I also believed the questions like that to be nothing but time wasters, attempts at judging competence. Here’s a whimsical idea, people have good days and bad ones, judging them while in a dog and pony show wearing uncomfortable clothing and on display with multiple frowning faces just waiting for them to mess up, what results do you expect to garner if the person isn’t an extrovert anyway.

    That’s the bigger problem in IT is too many big mouthed blowhards who must be center stage that push new tech just because it’s new, shun older tech that didn’t need fixing and want you to comment on their snarky or ironic t-shirt and drink beer with them. Oh and extrovert blasts through an interview like they thought up “Mario and Luigi” but it’s the intoverts getting things done and they have a horrid track record for interviewing.

  3. jgalt2000

    Enough with this new-age, touchy-feely interviewing process. The questions should be whether you can do the job at hand, not a bunch of BS questions handed out by the MBA-educated offspring of flower-children. No WONDER the country is going to cr*p.